Dee Williams: Setting the Bar Small

I have been following Dee Williams for a number of years and we have become friends via the internet and our passion for tiny homes. I recently discovered this video through our mutual friend Tammy Strobel and I wanted to share it with you in the tiny house video feature.

How much stuff does a person really need? This is a question Dee Williams has been chewing on for years, and after a pivotal trip to Guatemala seven years ago, her conclusion was: not much.

She’s lived in an 84 square foot house ever since, limiting herself to 300 possessions “from a pair of heels and a toothbrush, to a Ford pick-up and a two-ton jack.” Now she and business partner Katy Anderson are helping others do the same. They recently launched Portland Alternative Dwellings to build eco-friendly houses, small enough to fit on wheels and big enough to let you live your dreams.

Dee Williams: Setting the bar small. from nau on Vimeo.

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Marcia Curran - November 17, 2010 Reply

great, thanks so much for that. I want to get there, trying to get up the energy to make that change from house to tiny house.. Already have the tiny-ish house, ’79 Airstream Motorhome. It’s great to see that you’re living small.

Debra - November 17, 2010 Reply

How well spoken….you have a soft, gentle way of delivering a powerful message. Thank you!

PS – I just painted the living room of my tiny house:

Arlos - November 17, 2010 Reply

I love the two, “For Sale” signs on either side or her tiny house.

Arlos - November 17, 2010 Reply

Dee has done everything right!

Matt - November 17, 2010 Reply

Thanks Dee. You are awesome!

Kevin Lura - November 17, 2010 Reply

This is a bed on wheels. Where does she LIVE?

    Kent Griswold - November 17, 2010 Reply

    You can view photos of Dee’s house on the PAD website here is the link:

    Laura - November 17, 2010 Reply

    I live in a tiny house (less than 400 SF), and I love it, but I agree with Kevin…(if I get his drift)… a “house” isn’t a permanent solution if it doesn’t have at least a shower & toilet & a source of heat (in most climates). I love my tiny house because it is really a house. It has a bathroom with a door that shuts and a sink & a toilet. The kitchen has a range and a sink & cupboards and a refrigerator and place to sit at a table & eat a meal. I have a desk and a couch and a dresser and a bed. The plumbing doesn’t freeze in the winter because it is a house: it has insulation and a foundation. Obviously, everyone has different standards by which they can live and be happy, but is it realistic to say you’re “living” in an 84 SF house, when you have to go to the neighbor’s house to use the bathroom or take a shower? I love the message, and I subscribe to it (and live it), but it does begin to lose some of its credibility when you start to wonder where the water heater goes (or the batteries & inverter for the solar system @ Dee’s house). It’s a nice example of “radical small living,” and it is a beautiful little space (I love the vaulted ceiling) but it makes me wonder if it really is a long-term livable space.

Al Mollitor - November 18, 2010 Reply

I think Laura is right on.

Life in many of these tiny houses would be like little more than short-term camping. For most of us, a house should be truly self-contained. (No showering in Mom’s basement.) It should be large enough to store and prepare food efficiently. (Space to store bulk items and a real refrigerator to keep fresh veggies, etc.)

I hope to see more posts about small but efficient houses where, say, a couple could live comfortably and efficiently indefinitely.

alice - November 18, 2010 Reply

It’s a good inspiration to think about what each person needs and what works for one person or family may not work for another. I have an entire room devoted to sewing and a huge collection of materials from which I remove and add as needed, so my space requirements would work better with dedicated sewing space. My minimal requirements are separate sleeping, eating, food prep, hygiene and covered outdoor areas, not necessarily separate rooms, but spaces that don’t require conversion from one to the other, though some functions can overlap. Water, heat and some form of energy are a basic given, though again there are many options, some high tech, some fairly primitive but it’s function, economics and easy maintenance that counts. Next level of requirements involve sewing/workshop space. How much space each function requires is constantly up for review, and storage needs to be easily accessible and efficient, not necessarily huge. If you do food canning and bulk food storage your needs are different than if you prefer daily shopping for a few fresh ingredients. You might need a lot of space for tools or a complete workshop, or just a small spot at a table for a laptop. It comes down to figuring out what you need first, then you can start to see where the other stuff either fits in or doesn’t. If minimalist mode works for you that’s great, it it doesn’t you need to see what does. It isn’t for everybody and where would even the minimalists be without that person who seems to have just what you need in their ‘junkpile’?

Deek - November 18, 2010 Reply

Great place- and she seems like a genuinely nice, person- with very good intentions. I’d love to interview her for my book- anyone know her site/email?
You don’t have to publicly post it here though…don’t want to bother her, etc…


    Kent Griswold - November 18, 2010 Reply

    Hi Deek, I sent you her email address and the link above to PAD Portland Alternative Dwellings will give you more information.

Heather - November 18, 2010 Reply

I agree with the valid points made by Laura, Al, and Alice; everyone has their needs and if you have a lot of hobbies you will need some space to accommodate them, though I think unheated space is a good option. It always bothered me with some of these small houses when the folks living in them have to use the facilities of another large house nearby. If you’re preaching the small house independence (and perhaps looking down on those who occupy the McMansions, as some do), then this is small house hypocrisy for sure (using another’s facilities) and not all that independent. But, I don’t think Dee is like this and rather uses this aspect perhaps to foster more community in her life, since she does need to use the bathroom of her friend. She seems very genuine and caring. Her home may be too small for most, but the idea is a good one.

Grace Rinaldi - November 18, 2010 Reply

We are human beings. God made us with a need to shower and go to the bathroom. She does not have facilities for either. What the heck?

Josh - November 18, 2010 Reply

I agree with Kevin’s original comment, and Laura’s reply also. This does appear to be a bed on wheels. This doesn’t seem like it can be appropriately called a “house.” It seems more like a fancy children’s playhouse, or something to use for campouts in the backyard. No shower, no bathroom, a sink but no stove – these are the type of things I think would generally be considered necessary to be called a house. Even small travel trailers have these things. Plus there doesn’t seem to be any way to heat this place – not even room for a small wood burning stove.

It certainly doesn’t look like something that a person could live in. Camp in, in warm, nice weather, sure. Live in, I don’t think so. Out of curiosity, I looked up some plans for one-car garages. I would think that something that size could be a livable tiny house, with the necessary things to make it a livable house. The sizes I found for single-car garages ranged from around 280 to 320 square feet. That seems like it could make a livable space, certainly not 84 square feet though.

chesapeake - November 19, 2010 Reply

In response to nearly everyone above:

The tiny “don vardo” that Dee sits in during this video is *not* the house she lives in. The don vardo is what her company sells to people who want an artist’s studio, a guest bedroom, a piece of beautiful art for their backyard, camping, etc. And it would be totally livable for someone who wanted to make it into an RV of sorts, traveling around to campsites with showers and toilets.

That said, THIS:

is Dee Williams’ house. As she says at the beginning of the video that Ken posted: “I live in a tiny house roughly two feet longer than this one.”

People should do their research before they get all worked up! Easy, folks. Easy.

    Josh - November 19, 2010 Reply

    I thought most of the comments were directed at the statement in the piece, “She’s lived in an 84 square foot house…” Her “house,” and that’s not the term I would use for it, isn’t much different than the structure that’s shown. No running water, no shower. How do you have a house, yet have to borrow someone else’s shower? It’s a playhouse that goes in someone’s backyard. She carries water to it from whoever’s yard she’s camping in, and showers in their house. For a refrigerator she uses a cooler. Might as well get an old camper trailer. At least it would have a shower, stove, and refrigerator.

    This thing’s just too barren to be called a house, and it’s too small to support the things that nearly anyone would consider necessary for a house.

      Patti - March 1, 2011 Reply

      I agree, the whole purpose of tiny house living is to be as self-sufficient as possible: your tiny house with ALL the same functions as a traditional house or apartment (sleeping, sitting, storage, kitchen, bathroom), on either your own land, or on wheels

      Depending on someone else’s land/shower/kitchen is NOT a simple or self-sufficient lifestyle IMHO. Okay if you have it, but not for me

      And on wheels is not totally self-sufficient either, because to have electric and water you have to rent it from an RV park, which keeps you location dependent and on the grid, which may not be close to your work or even in your city.

      Self-sufficient would require no salary needs, or an internet-based business that brings in regular income, which requires electricity from a generator to power the laptop, and traveling with large jugs of potable water

      And motorhomes of ANY quality are expensive, 100K+ new, although some liquidation deals can be had. Older than that, or high mileage and you can expect the same number and expenses for repair and maintenance as for traditional homes

      *sigh* I’m still fascinated by the tiny house/simple/self-sufficient lifestyle though, especially since it’s just me with cats. I will keep watching for opportunities when the stars will align for my own small house, situated where I want it (or mobile on wheels), at a price I can afford, near my source of steady income (or a location-INdependent steady income…emphasis steady)

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